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6.18.04 A Summer of Letters

It's not like I don't already have a thousand loose ends in this new life of mine, but I thought up a new project.

Well, maybe it's not a new thread. Maybe I'm just scooting my chair around to another part of the tapestry -- dealing with a loose end that has been dangling for some time now.

I have a very complete set of letters between Jim's parents. They are literary and passionate -- two smart kids coming of age in the 1920s. The letters deserve to be published. I think they need some deft editing -- a little snipping out where they might ramble on a bit too long. I know they deserve to be put into the context of their times. I've never been much of a history buff. School ruined it for me by making it all about memorizing dates, battles, and kings.

But gradually I've realized that, first, history is not about the facts. Jim's shelves full of books on the Civil War and slavery are proof that each historian filters and presents the "facts" in new ways and for new purposes.  The writer may be on a genuine quest for truth, but it is still the "truth for my generation." History that simply transports you into another era has its merit, but I find it most interesting when it tells me something about my times. I also like it when a little history makes me realize that aspects of society we take for granted weren't always that way.

James and Orpha met at a Dramatic Club dance on March 31, 1925. He was junior and member of Theta Chi. He claimed in his old age that he knew he would marry her that very night. She was a sophomore who struggled between "sportiness" and "her better self." I know this because she was a tireless recorder of her life. In tiny notebooks and in miniscule writing, she jotted down what she did every day.

They were at Cornell in Ithaca NY. His family lived on Long Island, in Lynbrook; hers, in Glens Falls, up the Hudson River near Lake George. His family was stern and methodical and could easily trace their roots back to the Revolutionary War. Hers was less traditional. Her father was disabled with bone disease, so her mother supported the family as a private duty nurse. Orpha was a scholarship girl.

They were engaged by Christmas of 1925 and married in September 1926. After James' graduation in June 1926, they each went home to their families. She had to prepare for the wedding. He had to get a job and build them a house. They wrote diligently to each other throughout that summer. My thought is to post their letters here on the days they received them, starting on June 21 and ending on September 2. It might make for interesting reading but it will also help me look at the letters through new eyes and do a little homework about the 1920s. Maybe the letters will seem hopelessly wordy and the audience will be quickly lost -- but I won't know till I try it.

The Letters





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